For my thoughts on the re-opening of Walt Disney World, see this.


By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

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Fridays with Jim Korkis: A Magical Half-Century



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

YOUR PERSONAL DISNEY LIBRARY (44)

By Jim Korkis

With Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary arriving next week, Disney fans will soon have several options to purchase books celebrating the event, including Disney’s official coffee table book, A Portrait of Walt Disney World by Tim O’Day, Steven Vagnini and Kevin Kern, who are all top Disney historians I respect and trust. It will be released at the end of this month but is already a top seller on Amazon pre-orders.

A Magical Half-Century: Stories Celebrating Walt Disney World’s First 50 Years is not meant to be an all-inclusive documentation of Walt Disney World’s fifty years, but rather is sixteen individual stand-alone chapters of topics that caught the author’s attention, from attractions to intellectual properties to weathervanes.

He has a short three and a half page chapter on Imagineer Claude Coats, the only Imagineer to be profiled in that way. However, instead of focusing on Coats’ work for Walt Disney World including mentoring Imagineer Tony Baxter on the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction, Smith just provides a general overview of Coats’ career.

I wish that if Smith wanted to spotlight Coats, he would have gone to Didier Ghez’s Walt’s People series of books where there an excellent interview with Coats’ son Alan, who also became an Imagineer, about his father and his work for WDW (including a never built World Showcase pavilion not mentioned in this book). In addition, this Didier Ghez series includes other interviews, like one with Baxter who offered insightful comments on Coats and his attraction philosophy that was often in conflict with Imagineer Marc Davis. David Bossert’s extensive biography on Coats is coming out in November and is another book I am eagerly awaiting.

Christopher E. Smith has written three other well-received books about Walt Disney World: two volumes of The Backstories and Magical Secrets of Walt Disney World and The Walt Disney World That Never Was. He is an attorney who with his family has been a frequent visitor to WDW for over three decades.

Smith seems not to be a “numbers guy” –there is no emphasis on dates, statistics or other such data. Smith apparently did not personally interview anyone although he does quote from other sources. Basically, the approach of the book is of a longtime Walt Disney World fan who wrote about what he observed in the park and found in secondary research.

I must admit I find value in the fact that he transcribed some signage and narration even though he does not always know why it is there and what it references. For instance, in one chapter he lists all the inscriptions on the Haunted Mansion tombstones but it not clearly aware that they were written by Imagineer X. Atencio and were meant as “in jokes” about those Imagineers he knew personally. Smith gets the obvious reference but seemingly not the “hidden” joke.

However, Smith deserves recognition for documenting all the signs in the Western scene of the Great Movie Ride, the crew status roster of the Nostromo, and all the quotes in the American Adventure rotunda as well as the paintings among other examples. Many of these items appear but rarely in print.

Well-educated Disney fans of Walt Disney World may not find any new information, but the information that Smith provides is generally accurate and will be of benefit to newer fans not as familiar with these “secrets” who want to learn more about WDW. At 250 pages of content, it is a good value for the money.

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Thanks, Jim! and come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new books Kungaloosh! The Mythic Jungles of Walt Disney World and Hidden Treasures of Walt Disney World Resorts: Histories, Mysteries, and Theming, much of which was first published on this site.

 

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